I'm not trying to revert the downvotes or convince users that it was a good question. I'm trying to understand what (if anything at all) can be improved.

The (now auto-deleted) question was: Can data from sperm donors theoretically be used for the development of biological weapons

Was it SciFi?

When it comes to biology I'm nearly completely illiterate. So perhaps I've made stupid mistakes that make it a very bad question. Fair enough. A user in the comments tried to explain that my reasoning about HIV is flawed, but gave up since apparently I lack basic knowledge. (offtopic: if someone could shed some light on what he meant in his last comment, I'd appreciate it)

On the other hand, the following claim that ethnic bioweapons are a possibility:

DoD News Briefing, Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen, April 28, 1997:

[...] some scientists in their laboratories trying to devise certain types of pathogens that would be ethnic specific so that they could just eliminate certain ethnic groups and races

[..]So there are plenty of ingenious minds out there that are at work finding ways in which they can wreak terror upon other nations. It's real, and that's the reason why we have to intensify our efforts, and that's why this is so important.

Dr. Christopher Davis, UK's Defense Intelligence:

A: [...] we also have the possibility of targeting specific ethnic groups of specific genetic subtypes, if you like, of the population, that you can indiscriminately, in a way, spray something, but it only kills the certain people that this material is designed to find and attack.

Q: Science fiction, surely?

A: Well, what's often science fiction today is science fact tomorrow and I think that's not saying anything new. It may be right now, and in a way, I'm glad if it is. What worries me is tomorrow, and intelligence is, I hope, about trying to predict what's happening next.

Guardian, 28 Oct 2004 (couldn't find access to the BMA report they refer to):

The report, Biotechnology, Weapons and Humanity II, [by the British Medical Association (BMA)] warns that construction of genetic weapons "is now approaching reality". Such "genetic bombs" could contain anthrax or bubonic plague tailored to activate only when genes indicated the infected person was from a particular group.

And finally, Russia Today (which I included in my original question, since it was the only thing I had ever read about ethnic bioweapons, up until this Meta question):

But Igor Nikulin, a former member of the UN commission on biological weapons, noted that the RNA samples can be used to develop viruses.

[...] trying to develop various types of biological weapons specifically for specific carriers of this gene pool, and Caucasoids are needed since they constitute the majority of the population of our country.

“This is the same focus group for which they are trying to find the samples. It’s necessary for the viruses to act selectively on one or another ethnic group.”

So it might not be possible yet, but it's definitely a future possibility that the top agencies take very seriously. So, not SciFi but rather "theoretically possible".

Then, perhaps theoretical questions aren't perceived well?

118 questions with the word "theoretically" in them, some of which sound much more wild than research on ethnic bioweapons, makes me think this isn't the problem with my question either.

In particular, only 1 downvoted question (the other is my question).

A user suggested I post it on SkepticsSE instead

That's a site about debunking myths. Not sure how Skeptics would be better fit. Also, Skeptics has at times some not so impressive answers. I'd rather ask biologists about my biology question.

The term "ethnic group"

Did that cause confusion? I copied it from the above sources. Should I change it to something more suitable? I'm unfamiliar with biology terminology. (Nevermind, term seems to be widely used) Was the term deemed politically incorrect?

"RT is a propaganda outlet of the russian government"

Was my question poorly received because many people thought I'm conducting propaganda for Russia? Or against the US? Russia Today is indeed doing propaganda, just like every single media outlet. This is why I used its full name. Also, I hadn't researched thoroughly at the time I asked the question, so I couldn't include sources alternative to RT (eg. the ones above).

If the issue is political, I'd gladly edit the question.


Why exactly was my question downvoted and how can I improve the question?


2 Answers 2


Maybe you can start by editing your question with what you just said there? Adding background and showing your research is a good way to have good answers (and less downvotes).

Don't hesitate to say that you are not familiar with biology, people will forgive you more things and will begins by guiding you on the basics. That's what the comment tried to do by the way: The definition of "ethnic group" is key there. In fact this comment was made to make you understand you needed to do a basic research about ethnic group. The best thing is to try to define an ethnic group in your question with a good definition, give an example?

Personally I don't think links should be important for the comprehesion of the question and there it was the case. "listing requesting" for example what's that? don't forget you are talking to biologist. And don't put .doc links.

I don't think the issue is political! I personally agree to say this is more for skeptic.SE
Hope others will give you their thoughts! good luck with your question.

  • $\begingroup$ Ok, i will edit it. Few questions though, what do you mean about .doc links? As for the listing I included it for 2 reasons: 1. to show exactly what the US Air Force requested because I thought it contains important details (Synovial tissue + RNA of specific ethnic origin), 2. show that it's not my wild SciFi theory but rather a potential scenario according to a former member of the UN commission on biological weapons. $\endgroup$
    – user
    Commented Mar 2, 2018 at 17:19
  • $\begingroup$ Why would it be better fit for Skeptics? There are 118 questions that contain the word "theoretically". Why does my question not fit this site like they do? $\endgroup$
    – user
    Commented Mar 2, 2018 at 17:21

Some of the issues with your question:

  1. It's prospective, sort of a sci-fi question that we don't allow here (we use the umbrella term "opinion-based" though it doesn't really mean just opinions...basically if sci-fi nerds can argue about its plausibility, it isn't on-topic).

  2. It's based on some shaky premises that you haven't researched much yourself. Commenters have addressed this, but you really just fought with them in the comments rather than taking their suggestions to heart. Graham sent you a clear link written in easily understandable language about how it's not really possible to ID ethnic groups in DNA the way you might think. Chris pointed out the issue with RT.

  3. Some parts of your question, like 'Also, is there any benefit in acquiring specific tissue type for the development of such weapons?' have nothing to do with biology.

  4. Based on the level of understanding in your question and your comments, it seems like it's going to be a lot of work to teach you the required biology to understand an answer to your question. That makes it too broad. The SE format is not meant for far-reaching questions.

Also, searching for "theoretically" is a bad way to find other questions like yours. For one, actually bad questions typically get voted for closure and removed - you won't see those in your search. Secondly, people may use that word in a completely different context than you are using it.

I think you would be better off researching some particular aspects of your question before going further.

  • $\begingroup$ 1. I'm not so sure this is the case: Is it possible to print humans, migrated from scifiSE, 0 research, not closed, upvoted. Lots of questions similar to that ("Plants without bacteria? is it theoretically possible?", "theoretically get any animal to have heritable traits?", "the theoretical maximum population to which the Tiger species could be restored", etc). I do agree that the "theoretical" search contains some closed off-topic questions. ..... $\endgroup$
    – user
    Commented Mar 8, 2018 at 12:58
  • $\begingroup$ ..... I also have a hard time believing that my Q is scifi when all the doctors, intelligence agency members, biologists in the sources above consider it a likely scenario. This is the reason I don't find the link by the user useful; it contains the opinion of a philosopher. 0 credibility. $\endgroup$
    – user
    Commented Mar 8, 2018 at 13:05
  • $\begingroup$ 2. Do you suggest I initiated a "fight"? That is not the case. I retaliated to his sarcasm. So "you responded to his sarcasm" is mroe suitable in your answer. Anyway, that's unimportant. RT did not claim that, "Igor Nikulin, a former member of the UN commission on biological weapons" did. I should have phrased it better, i agree. .... $\endgroup$
    – user
    Commented Mar 8, 2018 at 15:19
  • $\begingroup$ As for ethnic specific groups i found the pdf of British Medical Association: "this finding is in line with other recent analyses and concluded that ‘a considerable number of ethnic specific SNPs do exist.’ Certainly, we can expect more data on this issue to become available as drug companies pursue genetic markers associated with differential responses to medication" Can't link the whole pdf but they state the pretty much the opposite. $\endgroup$
    – user
    Commented Mar 8, 2018 at 15:32
  • $\begingroup$ 3. I assumed (perhaps mistakenly) that cell-specific mRNA does exist and therefor specific cells would be needed to create a bioweapon using RNA interference as the BMA report suggests. Which other parts are unrelated to biology? 4. There is no need to fully educate me; a short summary would suffice. A short "no, your RNA assumption is wrong because [reason]". $\endgroup$
    – user
    Commented Mar 8, 2018 at 15:37
  • $\begingroup$ (correction in my second comment; "likely" -> "possible") $\endgroup$
    – user
    Commented Mar 8, 2018 at 15:43
  • $\begingroup$ Citing questions from 5 years ago isn't that helpful, since the standards on this site have changed since it was a beta site. Asking more questions in the comments here is not helpful and doesn't fit the SE model. You asked for help improving your question - I don't want to argue this further. $\endgroup$
    – Bryan Krause Mod
    Commented Mar 8, 2018 at 16:44
  • $\begingroup$ Criticizing posts and asking clarification in comments is standard procedure on major SE sites. If you don't want to continue the discussion, fair enough. Thanks for taking the time to post your point of view on my problem. $\endgroup$
    – user
    Commented Mar 8, 2018 at 17:58

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